Corey Kluber's second at-bat yesterday came in the top of the fifth inning. Up to this point, he'd allowed only one hit. His counterpart, Adam Morgan, had allowed only two. What began as a pitchers duel very briefly became an offensive battle, the runs sneaking into the game between innings like the sun between clouds on an overcast day. Of course at the end a tornado named Ryan Howard destroyed the village and everyone got impaled by debris and their corpses were struck by lightning in this simile, but I digress.
Pitch 1 - Fastball, 90 mph
Logan hits his target here nicely, which is something you need to do when your fastball barely breaks 90 mph. This isn't a pitch that we'd want Kluber swinging at, anyway. It's low, it's in, and while we don't have any idea about Corey Kluber's Hot Zones*, I don't think a strike at the knees on the black is one of them. Kluber steps away and touches his helmet.
*This sounds like a terrifying direct-to-VHS movie; one that can only be found if you ask for the adult entertainment videos at Discount Drug Mart. In this case, are they saving you the reach-around?
Pitch 2 - Slider 82, mph
This is a sexy slider. It starts over the plate and veers in on Kluber's hands. After the pitch, Kluber touches his helmet again, perhaps adjusting it slightly. He steps back and fixes his gloves. He takes a moment to consider the meaning of the implement he holds in his hands. How should it feel? Is it the right tool for the job?
To be honest, Kluber just looks uncomfortable up there throughout the at-bat. According to Rick Manning and Matt Underwood, Kluber talked about how hitting throws off his groove during a start, and running the bases can wear him out a bit going into the next inning. Indeed, he has the body language of a man doing something annoying only because he has to, like taking out the trash, cleaning the windows, or rearing children.
Pitch 3 - Fastball, 91 mph
Another fastball, but this one goes a bit too low. Kluber watches it pass by, and the count goes to one and two. He steps away from the plate and touches his helmet. Is it possible that the Indians couldn't get him a helmet that fits correctly? Maybe he just borrowed Jose Ramirez's helmet for the at bat. God knows it was probably just laying around on the ground somewhere.
He takes a mini-swing with the bat. It's difficult to tell from the gif, but he's running a quick sonar and vibration test on it, the sensors in his hands feeding data at light speed to his positronic brain. A click. A whir. The calculations cascade, and he steps back in.
Pitch 4 - Changeup, 80 mph
Kluber smacks a diving changeup foul. He steps away, and maybe he's just always going to touch his head after a pitch. I wonder if Adrian Beltre is sitting somewhere watching him touch his head over and over again, twitching uncontrollably, mouth foaming. The man does not like it when people touch his head.
Kluber takes another look at the bat, takes a more confident mini-swing. The readings all align. The time is now.
Pitch 5 - Fastball, 92 mph
Logan challenges Kluber on the inside corner of the plate, and Kluber gets the barrel of the bat around on it. It's not very often you get to see a team's ace leg out a hustle double. The ball came pretty close to landing foul, and takes a weird kick off of the wall. Kluber keeps his head up, photoreceptors allowing him to quickly calculate the speed and angle necessary to acquire an extra base. Objective accomplished.
Kluber manages to act like he's hit 200 in his doubles career. This is the second hit of Kluber's career, and his first double. I understand the whole, "act like you've been there before" thing, but maybe he can do a little shimmy on the bag? Give us one of those quick Corey smiles, long thought to be extinct in the wild?
Nope. Just taking care of business. Just doing what he needs to do to get through the working day.
This is why Kluber managed to stretch the hit into a double. Lough takes his eyes off the ball to check on Kluber and appears to miss the ball entirely.
Look, we all make mistakes. Some of them just look really, really bad when they loop every two seconds. Sorry guy.
Rajai Davis came up next and slapped a single that drove Kluber in. Kipnis is waiting with a high five and a quick butt slap. I find myself wondering what Kluber's thinking as e walks back to the dugout. He's working on another brilliant pitching performance with no run support, and here he is, opening up the scoring in the game. Kipnis hits a 2-run homer to give him a three run cushion in his at-bat, but Kluber labors a bit in the bottom half of the inning and gives up three runs of his own.
Is it possible that the extra effort needed for the plate appearance and running 360 feet causes enough exertion or enough of a break in focus to be responsible for a flawed fifth inning on the mound? I doubt it, but I don't really know. What I do find surprising is this: Kluber finished the night with a line of 7.0 IP, 5 H, 3 R, 2, ER 0 BB, 6 SO, but when asked about his performance he said, "I don't think I had too much working tonight."
There's something admirable but sad about a pitcher's disappointment in himself after a quality start where he also contributes a double and a run. It's not Kluber's fault that Ryan Howard brutally murdered Cody Allen at the end of the game, but perhaps when your team's last three losses are all walk-offs, it colors your perception a bit.